For women starting a new green business, there are plenty of resources available, including your local small business resource center, SCORE.org, networking groups, and meetups related to sustainable endeavors. While there are so many more ways to connect, both online and offline, at the end of the day, business still boils down to relationships.
For this reason, some say that networking is still the key to business success. Here are some networking tips from 3 women of color in the green business sector:
Connect with Successful Business People Who Practice What They Preach
Connect with business women in your area who are successful and who “practice what they preach” towards the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits.
May Hsu, who’s in the top 5% of residential Realtors in the nation and focuses exclusively on eco-friendly properties, suggests five ways to expand your network:
- Get involved with your local community and get to know other green businesses around your area.
- Go to your city website and there’s always community recycling events, e-waste collection, farmers market schedule, and green building classes for residents.
- Join your local chamber of commerce and/or professional associations – you will be connected to all the businesses in the city. You will have an opportunity to promote your business and also you can cater to other businesses that may need your services/ products.
- Be ready to give a simple 30 second talk when people ask about your business. Remember most people will not understand what “green” means, you have to specify, such as “my product is made of non-toxic materials so it is safe for children to put in their mouths” or “my service uses e-signatures so it is fast and efficient, you don’t need to waste time and money printing paper”.
- Build your business on the benefits of being green. Be able to complete this sentence: “My service/product is green because ___ , this is to help you _______.”
Make it Green and Great
When evaluating, keep in mind that just because something is a “green” business doesn’t automatically mean it will be a good business, especially in service-based companies. Hsu recommends that women “don’t have a business just because your product or service is “green” — it has to be more than that.” She explains that “fulfilling my client’s needs and expectation is the priority, which is selling their house for the highest value possible as fast as possible. The greening of my service is secondary.”
Understand the existing market need and consider your unique way you will fulfill the need in a more efficient, valuable, and effective way. For example, locally-produced goods may be more cost-efficient. Recycled or upcycled products might be a solution to a need for materials. A totally electronic or online version of an existing service may be more easy-to-use for today’s wired consumer. Innovate and find ways to develop a greener option to an existing choice.
Licensed in California since 2004, May Hsu (known as GreenandGorgeous in her video blogs and networks) has successfully sold condominiums and luxurious estates in the San Gabriel Valley. She is inspired to be a purpose-driven professional and greens her business and her lifestyle by being a part of organizations such as Built it Green, Ecobroker International, USGBC, and Habitat for Humanity. May oversees the green department at Treeline Realty and Investment Inc., where sustainability and creativity is the new real estate sales and marketing.
Establish Trust and Friendship in the Same Tribe
As you build your green network, you establish trust and friendship with others in the same “tribe.” Rana Sabeh, founder of the Orange County Green Market, highly encourages women to work as a part of a tight community. “It really helps to have a few close confidantes to give you trusted advice or tell it like it is even if you don’t think you want to hear it,” she recommends.
Think about the “Big Picture”
For many green entrepreneurs, a challenge is working “on” the business as well as working “in” the business. Sabeh explains that during the startup phase of creating the Orange County Green Market, “my biggest challenge has been zooming out of close-up mode and looking at the bigger picture – analyzing what hasn’t worked and why, then coming up with other strategies that will work better.”
You’ll want to consider ways to make your business be a part of a larger eco-system of green and sustainable products and services available in your community. This is tough when you’re a newbie or novice business owner. Sabeh explains that “you have to break through the fear and doubt and especially be aware of the sneaky doubtful voice in your head. Even if you think you’re trying, try harder. Then stop trying and do. Ask yourself, “Have I really and truly done everything I can, and have I done my best?” You’ll usually find you can do more.”
Rana Sabeh, proprietor at HealthyBargains.net, is the founder of the Orange County Green Market. The mission of the OC Green Market is to provide a location for local merchants to sell a variety of green products and services, and to also raise awareness of holistic, alternative and complimentary therapies. By offering an ability to “buy local”, community members spend and keep dollars within Orange County and continue to strengthen the fabric of the community, support family-run businesses and farms, reduce pollution, and create local jobs.
Be a Resource to your Community
As green businesswomen, you have an opportunity to share your knowledge and to promote your position as an eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable leader through reaching out, informing customers and suppliers, and educating the local community:
- Consider offering flyers or an informational board focused on eco-conscious topics
- Offer a resource section on your website
- Start, help create, or participate in a directory of other conscious green women-owned businesses in your area
- Participate in green-friendly events organized through your store
- Offer your offices as a meeting space for sustainably-oriented non-profits
- Share your story at the local Green Chamber of Commerce, Eco-Tuesday, or GreenBusinessNetwork.org event
- Create a podcast, video diary, blog, or ongoing article series about the importance of choosing green
While you educate, don’t forget to tell the “story” behind your green product or service. For example, as a television producer, correspondent, and columnist, Emmy-award winning Bianca Alexander provides heavily-researched information and resources about the “untold stories” of people of color within the green and environmental justice movement. Alexander focuses on providing tips about “conscious living” within the African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities. Her story on food deserts — where lower-income neighborhoods do not have equal access to fresh produce and low-cost healthy foods — was awarded the 2009 Annenberg Fellowship.
Bianca Alexander is an Emmy award-winning journalist and co-CEO of Conscious Planet, a green production company. She is the anchor of Conscious Living, a multi-platform news series highlighting the latest in sustainable, eco-friendly living, and Soul of Green, covering untold stories about people of color in the green and environmental justice movements. A licensed attorney with degrees from Princeton and The University of Virginia Law School, as well as a certified yoga instructor, Bianca has appeared regularly as a spokesperson and green/health reporter for ABC, NBC and WGN news shows around the country and as a host on networks like Lifetime, Tv One, and Fox.
Monica S. Flores, founder of GreenBusinessWomen.com, offers these four main tips for startup women: network with other green business women, focus on “making it great”, brand yourself as a resource provider, and think “big picture” for your business growth.